Wow, what an incredible day. I have the honor of blogging the second actual “lecture” day of rotation in Germany. As the first “traveling” day of the trip, we started off running with a very full day of events. Welcome to Tuesday, May 20, 2014, on the Germany Public Health rotation!
We started the morning at the Mobile Eradication Center in Barme, County of Verden. The Mobile Eradication Center (or MEC) is just what it sounds like: an outbreak investigation compound that can pick up and move to the site of action. The compound is actually just a set of seventy large containers that are set up to be used as a base office for the people on the ground. There is a “clean” side and a “dirty” side which are separated by complete shower facilities so that those that were in the field do not contaminate the building. The clean side theoretically does not have any viral or bacterial contamination. At the MEC, we were presented with “Animal Disease Control in Lower Saxony” by Dr. Josef Diekmann. The lecture also included some background information on the European Union (EU). The EU was set up in 1993. Today, 21 years later, the EU encompasses 28 member states, 500 million people, and 282 Border Inspection Points (BIPs; for import of external goods). The EU regulations take priority over national regulations. Animal health law in the EU differentiates between terrestrial and aquatic animals and also focuses on movement of animals. Moving to a more “local” level, Germany includes sixteen federal states which have priority (within Germany) over food safety and surveillance. Lower Saxony is the largest agrarian location within Germany, and it includes forty-one local veterinary control and food inspectors. Agriculture in Lower Saxony is extremely diverse and encompasses cattle, pigs, poultry, farms, and large feed businesses. We also learned about LAVES which was founded in July 2001. LAVES is responsible in Germany for monitoring, surveillance, and analysis on a federal state level. It includes 8 laboratories, 3 departments, and 800 people. The three departments are broken down to Consulting and Service, Execution (direct responsibility for surveillance), and Analysis (the largest department). Several of the major laboratories are Central Tasks, Food Safety, Animal Health, and Feed Safety and Market Control.
After the lecture introducing us to MEC, we received a lecture on Crisis Management. Europe has been hit with multiple crises, just in the last several years including the terrible outbreak in the UK in 2001 involving Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD). In 2003, Avian Influenza broke out in the Netherlands causing an estimated loss of 230 million euros in direct costs alone. These sorts of crises resulted in a need for the MEC as part of Germany’s answer to crisis and outbreak management. In an outbreak investigation, there are several highly necessary components: high degree of organization, detailed contingency plans, specialized computers, large resources involving both humans and material, high education and training, acceptance of stakeholders, and (ultimately) rapid decisions. Although there is only one MEC for all of Germany, this unit has never had to be fully deployed. However, in the case of deployment, the MEC is expected to be in place and set up within a maximum of five days; but in practice, actual movement and set up have been achieved in three days!
Not all of the day was spent learning about outbreaks and the incredible toll that they can and do take on a nation. The next location of the day was at the Mars center in Verden where we were warmly welcomed with a gift bag full of chocolate. However, Mars is more than just chocolate. Mars is a major name within the pet food industry, particularly in Europe. Royal Canin, Pedigree, and Whiskas are all a part of Mars. Mars operates on the following five principles: quality, responsibility (involving both the planet and resources), mutuality, efficiency, and freedom. There are 6 production sites in Germany and 2200 associates from 34 nations within the Mars company. The site that we visited in Verden holds palatability tests for both dogs and cats, and we had the opportunity to visit some of these wonderful animals.
Our final destination was at a milk inspection plant nearby: Institute fϋr Milchuntersuchung (IfM). Here, we received multiple lectures encompassing animal identification and tracing within Germany. In 1999, Germany began complete cattle stock tracing which involves the following components: two yellow ear tags with unique identification numbers for each animal, master data certificate (cattle passport), cattle records on each farm, and a central electronic database. The Central electronic database records each birth, import and cattle movement for every farmer, dealer, and butcher. Producers and animal handlers are kept in compliance through checks and penalties. Unregistered/untagged animals are not allowed to be bought or sold. If the identification of the animal cannot be proven, then the animal must be culled and condemned which results in a loss of meat price and the cost of disposal for the farmer. Animals are required to be tagged within seven days of birth, and notifications (death, movement) must also be within seven days. There are similar requirements in place for pigs and horses and other equids. We were also given a lecture on antibiotics restrictions in Germany. The goals of the antibiotics records and restrictions are to decrease antibiotic usage and ultimately to decrease the risk of creating antibiotic resistance. However, these restrictions are only applied to farms keeping cattle, pigs, chickens, turkeys, or fattening animals. Farmers must record the exact antibiotic name, amount of medication, animals treated, and duration of treatment and days under effect. Finally, we received a lecture on the actual milk inspection plant (IfM). IfM is state approved but there are no government subsidies. It operates on a non-profit basis. The goals of IfM are reliability, competency, speed, and good value for money.
We finished the day in the best German way possible: excellent food and good beer! Some of the most popular menu items were currywurst and, of course, schnitzel.